It is what you do and the way that you do it

The most decisive difference between an outstanding creative team and a poor one is its quality of leadership. Ian Cochrane looks at how great leaders behave

<b>Activity</b> <b>% time allocation</b>
Finance and administration 5%
Billable work 15%
Marketing and sales 15%
Client relationships 20%
Talking to staff 45%

You can always recognise a successful creative team when you see one. The output of the team is usually outstanding and when you meet the team you can feel the enthusiasm, energy and drive just pouring out of it. Staff and clients alike are drawn towards these qualities.

In my experience, the single most important factor is the skills and behaviour of the team leader. It’s simple: great teams have great team leaders and poor teams have poor team leaders.

In our industry these team leaders are often the same people who are generating ideas for clients – they have either come through the design route or the marketing route. They understand the process of idea generation and how to sell these ideas to people. Broadly speaking, they see themselves as ‘creative’ people. They have a passion for what they do and this passion infects staff and clients alike.

Successful team leaders have learnt three things:

First, always surround yourself with people better than yourself.

Second, play to your own personal strengths.

Third, be selfish when it comes to managing your own time.

As well as having quality people, it is very important to make sure that you have a balanced team or performance can be lopsided. A football team with no strikers is hardly likely to win the league.

In a design consultancy, it’s important to have strong hunters and gatherers with the energy and drive to win new business as well as those who are more concerned with getting the detail right on a piece of print before it goes out of the door.

One way to ensure this balance is to use a recognised personality profiling tool to make sure that you understand and develop your senior people and recruit the right sort of people into your team. No-one should ever be hired at a senior level without being profiled beforehand.

Playing to your strengths is also key. I say, forget about your weaknesses and focus on developing your strengths.

David Beckham spends his time practising free kicks rather than heading the ball. Tiger Woods practises those long shots rather than his bunker shots. Similarly, we should use the various tools that are available to identify our top strengths, then focus on and develop them over time.

Going back to that tip about being selfish with your time, a team leader’s time can be defined across five categories:

<b>Activity</b> <b>% time allocation</b>
Finance and administration 5%
Billable work 15%
Marketing and sales 15%
Client relationships 20%
Talking to staff 45%

Generally speaking, by far the most important category is talking to staff. It should take up anything between 40 and 60 per cent of a team leader’s time.

What we are really talking about here is the role of a leader as a coach. This is about helping others to do their jobs and helping them to get their priorities straight. Everyone needs help in personal goal-setting and encouragement to stretch outside their comfort zones. In general, people do not perform best when left to their own devices.

The least important category, as far as a team leader is concerned, is that of finance and administration. If your business has over 15 people, you need to employ a full-time professional financial person to take control of these aspects of the business.

There are two reasons for this. First, the team leader has more important things to do and second, there are people better qualified to do this job. The skills required for the two jobs are poles apart.

Ideas generators who become leaders can often be described as: driving, forceful, energetic, direct, influential, optimistic and communicative. Whereas the financial person is better described as: disciplined, careful, systematic, precise, accurate, cautious and logical. You get the drift.

Strong team leaders always ensure that they have a strong financial person alongside to take care of the financial and systems side of the business. The financial controller or finance director will support the managing director and serve as his or her right hand. This person will have a broad remit of responsibilities within the company, including:

.Producing and reviewing financials

.Preparation of budgets

.Preparation of cash flows

.Personnel administration

.Salaries and rewards


.Dealing with leases and contracts

.Pricing of client projects

.Cash collection

.Cash payments

.Statutory obligations

If the business comprises less than 15 people, the team leader might well spend in excess of 5 per cent of their time on the previously stated areas, but they should also rely on their external advisors to provide some of this expertise.

In the current climate, as we gradually climb out of recession, we are likely to see more start-ups appearing like the green shoots of spring after a hard winter.

In a start-up things are slightly different again. The prime mover is likely to be a new businessperson or a rainmaker. Without a rainmaker there can be no start-up. These people tend to be rather charismatic, driven and persuasive people who can attract clients to their cause and away from their previous employer if allowed to. By their very nature, they tend to be positive rather than realistic people.

Talk to any venture capitalist and they will tell you that the business plan targets for start-ups are nearly always overstated – people rarely deliver what they say they will deliver in the first year or so of a new business.

If the rainmaker has a start-up partner, it is likely to be a designer or someone who can deliver the product to the client. The crucial skill that is missing, once again, is that of finance.

Since start-ups have no need for a full-time financial controller, it is imperative that they use an advisor for sound business advice on how to minimise tax and to help them in producing a business plan.

Without a business plan, the new business will find it impossible to raise finance or get an overdraft with their friendly bank. Even friendly banks today require the level of comfort that comes from having such a plan.

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